At a time when every stakeholder in the concrete construction industry scrambles to maximize the benefits of new technology, Robert Finfrock has discovered a way to capture excellence in design, construction, and production all under one roof.
Finfrock began working part time in 1957 at Finfrock Industries Inc., the company his father founded 12 years earlier in Apopka, Fla. Finfrock’s curiosity was sparked in 1960, when he assisted the company’s engineers in a groundbreaking structural product analysis using a computer at the PCA, something few producers were doing.
The project inspired him to pursue an engineering degree, which he completed at Vanderbilt University. His full-time career as a precast concrete producer began in 1965.
While working on his Master of Commercial Science degree at Rollins College in 1970, Finfrock became interested in the design-build process. “I felt a disconnection between the concrete producer and the end-user of a building that prevented us from providing the project owner with any stronger benefit than a price-based commodity,” he says. Thus, Finfrock added “certified general contractor” to his growing list of credentials.
By 1996 Finfrock Industries had become a fully integrated design-build operation, responsible for project architecture, engineering, and general contracting. Finfrock Design-Manufacture-Construct (known as Finfrock), is now the largest design-builder of parking structures in the country, with an expanded perspective on its projects that includes both the producer and end-user’s points of view. The new scope of operations made 3D modeling and building information modeling (BIM) a natural fit.
Fostering new technology
Finfrock was one of the original investors in StructureWorks 3D modeling software, which Finfrock calls “BIM on steroids.” The software generates models of a building’s precast and prestressed components and automates the process of providing drawings to production and erection crews. Finfrock Industries now owns StructureWorks.
The in-house team has gone from drawing complex parking structure plans in three months with a team of six people to producing a 3D model in one week with two people. In fact, Finfrock Design-Manufacture-Construct could be a case study on how BIM has changed the nature of concrete construction. As advanced modeling technology has given designers, contractors, and producers more immediate and extensive access to project details, it has raised expectations for more transparent data and quicker, more seamless project delivery. (See “A Model of Precision,” July-August 2014 TCP.)
“Our customers (developers) are mainly interested in the benefits we can deliver—speed, quality, and guaranteed price,” says Finfrock. “We’re able to quote a hard, very competitive price because we don’t have change orders. And the accuracy of 3D modeling virtually eliminates mistakes.”
With its design process streamlined, Finfrock tackled project management. “We used to blame people if loads didn’t go out on time or if a piece was made wrong, until we looked into the mirror and realized we were the problem,” he says.
At one time Allen Finfrock, executive vice president and chief design officer (and Robert Finfrock’s son), spent half of his time creating scheduling spreadsheets. To expedite the process, the StructureWorks programmers developed PieceTracker, a database program that follows a precast element from the time it’s designed to its installation at a jobsite.
Using unique ID numbers, PieceTracker tells plant workers where each piece is stored in the yard, alerts dispatchers when a piece ships to a job, and helps project managers install everything in the correct order. Now employees get real-time information on smart phones, tailored to individual projects, instead of relying on daily reports based on the previous day’s activity.
Technology has also led to production improvements. The producer in 2012 opened a 34,000-square-foot facility with a 40-foot-high ceiling to house new tilt tables, gantry and bridge cranes, and a state-of-the-art computer aided manufacturing (CAM) system. StructureWorks guides ceiling-mounted lasers that project the location of reinforcing materials, utilities, and openings onto precast panels for precise placement. The producer plans to open another new 65,000-square-foot plant in January.
Reaching untapped potential
With the new facilities, Finfrock will begin producing its patented DualDeck composite truss, designed for long spans of column-free support. “It’s something that’s been escaping us,” says Finfrock. “A horizontal spanning floor member that’s suitable for mid-rise buildings.”
DualDeck is made by attaching two 2.5-inch-thick precast concrete members with high-strength reinforcing wire and steel angles. Each structural panel is 12 feet wide, up to 65 feet long, and between 12 and 24 inches thick. All electrical conduit, plumbing, and HVAC ducts are contained inside, precisely placed by laser-guided layout.
The panels’ light weight (62 pounds per square foot) reduces foundation costs, and steel-formed floor and ceiling surfaces save the time and cost of finishing. Finfrock will begin its first DualDeck project, a 180-room hotel in Naples, Fla., in January.
“We’ve been able to solve an issue that’s been hampering our industry because we have all the trades in-house: architects, engineers, drafters, contractors, and production staff,” says Finfrock. “Every week our team of 15 to 20 people meets to determine how to integrate the trades, in addition to impromptu meetings every day.”
Finfrock believes all producers have an opportunity to improve the industry. “When I joined PCI, they had a vision to become a mainstream player in the construction industry,” he says. “We have a wonderful building material but we still haven’t lived up to our potential.”
In 2015, Robert Finfrock celebrates his 50th year in the precast industry. He continues to inspire the next generation. “I always loved this business and knew I wanted to be involved,” he says, “and I never had to recruit my kids either.” Finfrock’s children, Allen (executive vice president and chief design officer), Bill (executive vice president of project development), Dan (executive vice president of manufacturing), and Linda (marketing assistant) have all joined him in running the Finfrock family of companies.